Safe Food Temperatures and the “Danger Zone”

Anybody can get food poisoning, but most people don’t think about food safety until they or someone they know gets sick after eating contaminated food.

Do you know what happens when perishable foods are left at (40°F – 140°F) for more than 2 hours? Bacteria like Salmonella, E.coli, and Campylobacter can double in number in as little as 20 minutes!
The temperature range in which foodborne bacteria can grow is known as the “Danger Zone”. One of the critical factors in controlling bacteria in food is controlling temperature. Pathogenic microorganisms (pathogens) grow very slowly at temperatures below 40°F, multiply rapidly between 40°F and 140°F, and are destroyed at temperatures above 140°F.

Anyone can get sick from eating contaminated food. To lower your chances of food poisoning, consider how germs found in contaminated food can make you sick. You can take action to protect yourself and your loved ones by keeping food safe

Perishable Foods

Perishable foods are foods that are potentially hazardous inside the Danger Zone. They include:

  • Meat: beef, poultry, pork, seafood
  • Eggs and other protein-rich foods
  • Dairy products
  • Cut or peeled fresh produce
  • Cooked vegetables, beans, rice, pasta
  • Sauces, such as gravy
  • Sprouts
  • Any foods containing the above, e.g. casseroles, salads, quiches
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Foodborne Illness Signs and Symptoms

Foodborne bacteria, in large enough numbers, may cause food poisoning, symptoms similar to gastroenteritis or “stomach flu”. Some of the symptoms include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever.

Foodborne illness is more dangerous for certain vulnerable populations, such as people with weakened immune systems, young children, the elderly, and pregnant women.

Foodborne illness symptoms can begin as early as shortly after and as late as weeks after consumption of the contaminated food.

Foodborne Illness Prevention

Food poisoning, sometimes called foodborne illness, is a common but preventable condition caused by eating foods contaminated with harmful pathogens.

According to the CDC, each year about 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. Learn more about foodborne illnesses and what you can do to lower your chances of getting sick.

Good hygiene and cooking foods thoroughly are the best and easiest ways to avoid food poisoning. To prevent food poisoning it is recommended to:

  • Always clean your hands, utensils and food surfaces before using them;
  • Never store raw foods next to ready-to-eat foods;
  • Cook foods to a safe temperature. Check them using a food thermometer:
    • ground meats: 160°F
    • fresh beef, veal, and lamb: 145°F (let stand 3 minutes)
    • poultry: 165°F
    • pork and ham: 145°F (let stand 3 minutes)
    • egg dishes: 160°F, cook eggs until whites are firm
    • leftover dishes and casseroles: 165°F
    • fish: 145°F or flesh can come apart with a fork
    • shellfish: cook until shells open on their own
  • Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods within two hours since purchase or preparation;.
  • Defrost food safely in the refrigerator;
  • Make sure to dispose of food if you are unsure of its safety.

Young children, pregnant women and their unborn babies, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems should take extra precautions and avoid the following foods:

  • Raw or rare meat and poultry
  • Raw or undercooked fish or shellfish
  • Raw or undercooked eggs or foods containing them ( cookie dough and homemade ice cream)
  • Fresh sprouts
  • Unpasteurized ciders or juices
  • Unpasteurized milk and milk products
  • Uncooked hot dogs